A documentary tries to illuminate the reasons for romance
A documentary tries to illuminate the reasons for romance
ANATOMY OF LOVE (The Discovery Channel, March 6,13, 20, 27, 9 p.m.)
Western society has a way of looking at love in terms of icons. Elizabethan England, for instance, had Romeo and Juli-
et; the 20th century has the Duke of Windsor and Wallace Simpson or, for that matter, Marge and Homer Simpson. In her influential 1992 best-seller, Anatomy of Love, Helen Fisher looked beneath the icons to find the essence of romance. An anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, she skipped willy-nilly through anthropology, archeology, psychology and zoology—and with more than a few scholarly references—to formulate an evolutionary model for human attraction and sexual relationships. Courtship, she wrote, is partly founded on the need to select the best mate for continuance of the gene pool; marriage has underpinnings in the desire among female bipeds for protection; adultery may have been based in the evolution-
ary imperative for maintaining genetic diversity; and divorce could be a holdover from a naturally recurring process that our prehistoric ancestors practised. Fisher proposed a general idea of love—and suggested a constancy underlying the seemingly individual vagaries of romance.
Now, director Katherine Gilday and pro-
ducer Rachel Low, both of Toronto, have brought those exhaustively researched theories to the small screen. like the book, the four-hour television program Anatomy of Love—which airs in four weekly instalments on The Discovery Channel, from March 6 to 27—seeks to examine the evolutionary roots of romance. But unlike Fisher’s study, the TV
version takes a more illustrative approach, attempting to illuminate the theory with reallife love stories. The result is a stream of often-moving interviews with surprisingly honest people in Canada, the United States, Japan and the Samburu tribe of northern Kenya. Unfortunately, it also presents a rather muddied exposition of Fisher’s ideas.
Anatomy of Love is part science documentary, part talk show. Each episode examines one of the major facets of Fisher’s book. The first is Courtship, followed by Marriage, Adultery and Breaking Up/Staying Together. In each, Fisher, who hosts the series, begins by explaining her take on the process in question—and then the rest of the show comprises one-on-one interviews with earnest, honest people, talking about their dating woes, their marital bliss, their infidelities, their divorces. It is a bit like watching Donahue or Sally Jessy Raphael, but without the irksome intrusion of a holier-than-thou studio audience.
In fact, the strength of the series lies in the way it simply lets the interview subjects talk. Courtship is perhaps the best episode, with its subjects’ frank discussion of the loneliness and confusion that propel them to look for relationships. Among them is Isabel, an attractive, thirtyish advertising copywriter in Manhattan who has decided to get serious about finding a man to marry. In a series of interviews spanning several months, the camera follows her expectations of, and tech-
niques for, finding a mate—even as her search proves fruitless. “I just want,” says Isabel, wiping a tear from the comer of her eye and smiling in embarrassment “somebody who wants to be with me.”
Part 2, Marriage, follows the progress of weddings in Japan, New Jersey and among the Samburu. It is the weakest of the four segments, largely because it deals with pretty familiar stuff. But the pace, and voyeuristic appeal, pick up with Part 3, Adultery. It includes an interview with a middle-aged Japanese businessman who lives with his wife and children on Sundays—but moves among his four girlfriends from Monday to Saturday. “What is a simple way of loving?” he asks. “Does it mean loving one woman? I don’t know what that is.”
The series certainly has its share of the weird and the titillating. In Adultery, Donna and Gerald, two 30-year-old Canadians who have been married for seven years, explain in detail how they arrived at a more-or-less open relationship—the major restriction being, apparently, that both agree not to stay out all night with their lovers. In the same episode, a fiftyish Toronto woman explains how the fourth of her five marriages ended several years ago when her husband found out about her infidelity. Still, she says, an “illicit af-
fair has so much more going for it” than marriage—and then she reveals that she loves “to make love all the time.”
Despite the vicarious thrills it offers, as a documentary Anatomy of Love remains confused. True, everyone in Part 4, for instance, has either gone through a divorce or has contemplated it, and their testimonials are both interesting and emotionally charged. But beyond that, none of them reveals much about the validity (or lack thereof) of Fisher’s notion that divorce is part of a natural cycle in which monogamous relationships end once offspring are out of infancy.
In the end, those unfamiliar with the book might be left wondering what the point of the series is. It is hard to see, for instance, what natural selection has to do with 38-year-old Anne, who tearfully explains how her extramarital office romance ruined her marriage and resulted in her losing custody of her children—as well as losing her lover. “Now,” she says, “I don’t even have the man I once thought I’d give everything for.” In the face of such emotion, Fisher’s otherwise lucid ideas appear tacked-on, irrelevant, even oversimplified. Given short shrift by the series, they seem merely banal.
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